BLAIR, James (?1788-1841), of Penninghame, Wigtown and Devonshire Place, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. ?1788, o.s. of John Blair of Armagh.1 m. 27 Dec. 1815, Elizabeth Catherine, da. of Lt.-Gen. Hon. Edward Stopford†, s.p. d. 9 Sept. 1841.
Blair was born and raised in Ulster, but his family ties and interests lay in Wigtownshire and the estates in Berbice, Demerara and Surinam which he inherited in 1815 as coheir of his paternal uncle Lambert Blair, whose sister-in-law he subsequently married.2 An anti-Catholic Tory, he had entered Parliament in 1818 to promote the West India planters’ interests, and he continued to do so in that of 1820, to which he was returned for Aldeburgh by the iron founder Samuel Walker†.3 He voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825, parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 2 June 1823, and Lord John Russell’s resolutions condemning electoral bribery, 26 May 1826. He divided with Lord Liverpool’s government on their handling of Queen Caroline’s case, 6 Feb., the additional malt duty repeal bill, 3 Apr., the revenue, 6 Mar. 1821, 13 Mar. 1823, and retrenchment, 27 June 1821, but cast wayward votes for admiralty economies, 1 Mar., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May 1822. He voted against inquiring into the conduct of the lord advocate towards the Scottish press, 25 June, and for the aliens bill, 19 July, and the grant for publishing Irish government publications, 22 July 1822. He voted against repealing the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and with government on the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 24 Mar., 22 Apr., against investigating chancery delays, 5 June 1823, and for the award to the duke of Cumberland, 6 June 1825. He divided for the usury laws repeal bill, 8 Apr. 1824. He possessed a substantial holding in the Irish Linen Banking Company, and voted in a minority of 39 against going into committee on the Bank Charter Acts, 13 Feb. 1826.4 Breaking his silence in the House when the 1823 resolutions for the amelioration of the condition of the West Indian slaves were readopted, 16 Mar. 1824, he denied the treasury secretary Lushington’s allegation that the Demerara revolt had been caused by ‘slaves having been overworked and maltreated’. Highlighting the 1823 fever epidemic as a contributory factor, he rejected parallels drawn with current developments in Jamaica and maintained that the parliamentary debates on slavery had themselves fuelled colonial unrest and uncertainty:
Ministers should throw more decision into their measures, and let us know how far they mean to go. I conceive that unless a line be drawn and unless we are told where concession is to stop, the negroes will never enjoy quiet, nor the planters that undisturbed possession of their property, to which they are by law entitled.
As an East and West India proprietor, he had written to Lushington in 1823 to criticize a proposal for levying the same duty on West and East Indian cotton wool:
This involves the question of protection, regarding which in sugar the interests of the two Indies are at variance, and I hope the principle will not be infringed as to one commodity unless it be found expedient to renounce it in all.5
He spoke unequivocally for a preferential tariff on West Indian sugars when equalization was proposed, 18 Mar. 1825. He voted against inquiry into the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824, and against condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826. The Walkers had sold Aldeburgh to the 2nd marquess of Hertford in 1822, and at the general election of 1826 Blair was returned on the Fownes Luttrell interest for Minehead, where Hertford’s nominee John Douglas was ‘retired’.
He cast his customary vote against Catholic relief, 6 May, divided with government for the grant to the duke of Clarence, 16 Mar., but probably voted in a minority of seven against the committal of Thomas Flanagan to Newgate, 19 June 1827. He voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828, but held aloof from the 1828-9 debates on Catholic emancipation. He voted to defeat Robert Grant’s Jewish emancipation bill, 17 May 1830. He stood down at the dissolution that summer. He had been cultivating a political interest among local Tories from his Wigtownshire seat since 1829 with a view to representing the county and, although unsuccessful there in 1835, he was returned in 1837.6 Already in poor health, he retired at the dissolution in 1841 and died that September at his new London home in Portman Square, leaving estates in Scotland, England and Ireland and plantations in Berbice, India and South America. His marriage was childless, and beneficiaries of his 46-page will, dated 19 Oct. 1833, included his sisters, Ann, Elizabeth and Charlotte, and Molly Rose, a black woman on his Berbice estate, and her son Robert, whom he had probably fathered and who had become an employee of Messrs Nicholas Waterhouse of Liverpool. In the absence of heirs of entail, Penninghame passed to the Stopford family following his wife’s death in 1886.7
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. IGI (Armagh).
- 2. Ibid. (Armagh and Wigtown); PROB 11/1565/65; L. Ragatz, Fall of Planter Class in British Caribbean, 1763-1833, p. 2.
- 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 369; iii. 216; v. 467; BL, J. Glyde, ‘Materials for a Hist. of Aldeburgh, Framlingham and Orford’, 166; Suff. Chron. 11 Mar.; Ipswich Jnl. 11 Mar. 1820.
- 4. Gent. Mag. (1841), ii. 547.
- 5. TNA T64/261, Blair to Lushington, 9 Mar. 1823.
- 6. Edinburgh Almanac (1829), 238; (1841), 324; Scottish Electoral Politics, 225, 246, 259; Caledonian Mercury, 22 July, 7, 10 Aug., 15, 16 Sept. 1837.
- 7. Glasgow Saturday Post and Renfrewshire Reformer, 18 Sept. 1841; PROB 11/1753/728; IR26/1572/1115.